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The story of the Frankencaster

Steve Morse with his MusicMan Y2D, London, Ontario, Feb 11, 2011; photo © Nick Soveiko cc-by-nc-sa

Music Radar has a Steve Morse’s interview with the focus on his old guitar — a Telecaster body with a Strat neck and innards from hell, lovingly referred to as the Frankencaster — the one that he used before Music Man came up with his signature instrument:

…I was helping out a friend in South Carolina, doing a session. Instead of money, I was paid with a guitar – a black Telecaster with a maple neck. It had the regular Tele lead pickup in it and a PAF-type humbucker from a 335 in the neck. There was a lipstick pickup in the guitar case – the previous owner had removed it.

At the time, I didn’t think too much of it. I kind of assessed it like this: The guitar feeds back; it doesn’t tune; the maple neck is too slippery to play when my hands are sweaty; and one of the presets on the three-way switch makes no sense – it has a capacitor, which takes away all the high end. I was baffled as to why people thought Telecasters were so great.

There were a lot of things I could do, though, and I sort of looked at the guitar – all this wide-open space on it – as a blank canvas. Anything was possible.

Read more on Music Radar.

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12 Comments to “The story of the Frankencaster”:

  1. 1
    Tracy (Zero the Hero) Heyder says:

    Mainly for me, the fact that the statement was made about the recording session with Purple in Germany was the highlight of this interview. Guitar tech I’m not. Though I’m sure there is importance overall, the Purple reference is the most significant, no matter how slight….

    Cheers

  2. 2
    T says:

    Like all art, music is subjective. It is difficult to “prove” that one piece is “better” than another–and so it is with the nuances of the guitar sound. Morse’s obsession to find “that” special tone is an aspect of guitar playing that every musician faces. It usually remains just out of reach and subject to compromise for most people.

    I’ve always thought that the single-coil Stratocaster sound is the sonic epitome of Deep Purple–a sound that Morse more or less abandons. The switch in guitarists came with a fundamental difference in guitar tone and playing style, and the old classics take on a very distinctive identity. Whether or not the sound and style works with the old songs is subjective.

    My favorite guitar sound is the clean Strat tone with its bell-like rings and hint of fret and pick “scrape”. Think Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall” solo. Even the click of the switch from bridge to neck pick-up is iconic. But that’s *my* opinion.

    What struck me as I read the story is that Morse seemed to be looking for a Gibson SG–that is, a solid body with a cutaway and strong humbuckers. That he modified the “Telecaster” with stronger pickups and even went with the Tune-O-Matic bridge is indicative of his Gibson tendencies. The guitar became so heavily modified it no longer was what it was–certainly not a Tele, and a Fender in name and shape only. Frankenstein, indeed.

    A strong set of electronics, an evolved neck, positioning of the pot for volume swells, and a shape conducive to better playing rang a bell with me. The defunct Switch company made a guitar called the Vibracell that may have worked for Morse–if he didn’t mind the weight. It had all those features in addition to infinite sustain, harmonics-on-demand that just oozes from the fingers, and a fretboard constructed totally of man-made materials. You can see mine here:

    https://sites.google.com/site/stratkatzguitarbunker/home/switch-vibracell-ultima-iv

    On the other hand, maybe what he needed was a Variax.

    Morse’s experimentation was ultimately successful. Steve’s sound is as consistent as I’d ever heard, virtually identical from night-to-night. He brought this dependibility to a science. That kind of symmetry could only come with years of trial-and-error R & D.

    The success of the Purpendicular album can be attibuted in large part to Steve’s playing–as well as the sound of the Music Man–giving the first Morse-era album a trademark sound as distinctive as Blackmore’s in its own way. These Morse compositions have a depth and maturity virtually unmatched by most guitarists.

    Which sound one perfers, however, is up to the listener.

  3. 3
    Ted The Mechanic says:

    T @2,

    Very intelligent and knowledgeable post. And eloquent to say the least.

    All so many of these years ago I was able to see/listen to Steve with this Frankenstein. Night and day from the Music Man. And he was playing through Ampeg’s. Do the math on tones and sounds. Oh, yes, you already did within your post!

    Great stuff, T!

    Peace,
    Ted

  4. 4
    Blackmorse says:

    I believe that the famed “Another Brick inthe Wall”-solo was played on a Les Paul…

  5. 5
    Innerspace says:

    @ 4
    It was. A gold topped 50s guitar (pre ’57, most likely, as Gibson changed to humbuckers for the Les Paul that year) with P90 single coils. Allthough single coils, the P90 pickup doesn’t sound anything like a strat or tele pickup, though. It is a typical Gibson sound. I won’t go into technical details; too long winded and too boring for non- guitarists, I suppose. Those of you who are interrested in that sort of thing can find extensive info about it elsewhere on the interweb.

  6. 6
    Guillermo - Heavyrock says:

    Nice story! I am not really a fan from Telecaster, but this one is very special… And I really love his Music Man! It has a really comfortable neck and the Humbucker from the neck with that special sound!

  7. 7
    T says:

    Re: 4 & 5

    Which model Gilmour used on the recording may be subject to debate, but for playing live he chose a Stratocaster. The one I saw was a red model, which appeared to have Fender Lace Sensor pick-ups and characteristics of a Strat Plus (I have one: https://sites.google.com/site/stratkatzguitarbunker/home/fender-stratocaster-strat-plus ). The sound was extremely similar to the record, and had the tonality to which I was referring–which was the point. I assume he was using a signature- or signature-equipped model.

    Since the Strat Plus was not available in 1979, I concede that Gilmour had to have used something else and your point is well taken. I will have to disagree, however, that the solo does not sound like a Stratocaster with the switch in the neck position. 🙂

    A beautiful tone nonetheless and for me a prime example of what a guitar should sound like.

  8. 8
    purplepriest1965 says:

    People that love Blackmore’s sound should like Gilmour’s sound too.

  9. 9
    Innerspace says:

    @7
    Gilmour is one of those players; rare in this day and age, I’d say, that has his tone in his fingers more than in the equipment he uses. Ritchie Blackmore, Jimmy Page, Billy Gibbons, Paul Kossoff, Jeff Beck… all those are perfect examples of it. But, the inherrent tone of the guitars themselves are quite different indeed, and it isn’t just in the pickups either. A Lester is made from Mahogany (body and neck) with a maple cap for the body. A Strat uses either ash or alder in the body and maple for the neck. Also: Strat- neck bolted to the body with (mostly) four screwes. Lester- neck set into the body… All these aspects make for two very different guitars.

    As for what Gilmour would have used live back in 1980 (Wall tour), that would most likely have been his black Strat, which I believe was quite heavily modded by this time. It started life as a straight ’68/’69 maple cap necked job; identical to Ritchies first main live Strat in fact. But by cirka 1972, he started modding, and re- modding it quite heavily. I believe gilmourish.com has a rather extensive article about the evolution of that guitar. He used it heavily(!) throughout the seventies and early eighties. The guitars for the late eighties and early nineties tours were not Strat plus model guitars btw. They were early American Vintage ’57 reissues fitted with EMGs.

  10. 10
    Tracy (Zero the Hero) Heyder says:

    Concerning the ‘Strat’, there was a monumental concert in celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the instrument back in 2004 called ‘The Strat Pack Live in Concert’ 50 Years of the Strat’ which included performances of many of the well-known ‘Strat Players’ such as David Gilmour, Gary Moore, Brian May, Joe Walsh, etc. They air it from time to time on the Direct TV Concert Channel which I recorded and I must say it is hours of some incredible performances. Watching Gary Moore play ‘Red House’ as far I’m concerned is the highlight. I believe it is also available in DVD. What a shame Ritchie Blackmore didn’t take part in this. That would have taken this event to a whole different level. Unfortunately he was too busy frolicking in his tights and pointy hat in the forest of lute-ville to contribute his time in respect to the instrument that made him what he is actually known for.

    Below is the link to the Gary Moore performance:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tAd5ha41kWg

    Below is a David Gilmour performance from the same show:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BdTOjZQlR-8

    Cheers

  11. 11
    MacGregor says:

    I remember the Strat celebration gig & still to this day wonder why Brian May was there? He may have used a Strat a little at the start of his career, but he isn’t “known” as a Strat player in the rock guitar world. There are so many classic Stratocaster players that we would like to see at those sort of concerts, Blackmore included, but other priorities & an attitude to those sort of things, eventually thins out the lineup! Robin Trower is a classic Strat player & I thought or hoped that he was going to be at that gig.
    Blackmore would never be seen at a gig like that! It is shame though, as he would blow the roof off with his sound & playing!
    I remember the Smoke On The Water rock aid Armenia thing back in 1989. Apparently Blackmore entered through a side door, played his guitar bit & departed very quickly, without anyone knowing he was there! That is what I have read over the years & one could picture him doing something like that!
    The late Rory Gallagher was a classic Strat guy, also Stevie Ray & of course the master Hendrix! I am mentioning these souls, sadly departed from this world, not only for their wonderful songs & playing ability, but their great sounds! Hendrix ‘Band Of Gypsy’s’ gig has a sensational Stratocaster sound! What an album that is! Cheers.

  12. 12
    Innerspace says:

    @10 & 11
    I have to say that I just don’t envisage Blacmore at an event like that. From what interviews of his I’ve seen/read over the years, I’d say it would be completely out of character, even. And I don’t blame him. To me such events have a nasty tendency, at least these days, to feel somewhat contrived. Like… here we are, and we’re having SUCH a SMASHING time… all the while it is just another cog in the wheel of the sausage factory… Others may feel differently, but… you know…

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